Friday 23 March 2018

O'Neill delight at Lilywhites' strength in depth

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill. Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill. Photo: Seb Daly / SPORTSFILE

Michael Verney

Kildare boss Cian O'Neill expects new captain Eoin Doyle to bounce back from injury and do his talking on the pitch this season, although a return date is not in sight just yet.

The Naas clubman has had limited opportunities in recent years, suffering the effects of osteitis pubis, but he is on the comeback trail and would help bolster the Lilywhites defence.

Having worked closely with Doyle for four years during his college days in UL, O'Neill had no hesitation in choosing him as this year's skipper for his outstanding leadership qualities.

"I've known him for years. I know him well and I know what he can offer," O'Neill said. "He's a brilliant leader, a student of the game and he leads both on the pitch and in the dressing-room.

"At half-time on Sunday we had no problem stepping out and leaving Eoin in there and that's important. His injury is a long-term, chronic injury but we're very confident our medical team will have him back when he's ready."

Kildare opened their Allianz Division 3 campaign with a four-point defeat of Westmeath on Sunday and O'Neill hopes his side will build on that encouraging display when they host Offaly in Newbridge this weekend.

He feels the Lilies must develop a killer instinct as they bid to make a swift return to Division 2 but he has been impressed with the competition for places so far.

"They're still learning. We had four or five chances near the end, tap overs, and we didn't take them. When you're playing with a gale at your back, you don't need to win by ten, you need to keep the scoreboard ticking over," he said.

"We made life a little bit too difficult for ourselves unnecessarily in the last 15 but our ball retention at the end pleased me, they really put us under pressure but we didn't change our game-plan and that was nice to see.

"There's a level of strength in the panel that perhaps hasn't been there in the past. We've got younger guys coming through and that's what Kildare needs, more young guys challenging for positions."

O'Neill, a renowned strength and conditioning coach who worked with Kerry, Mayo and Tipperary's hurlers, is happy with the physical fitness of his side at this early stage.

"We're not a big imposing team all over," he said. "We have some big players down the spine but it was good to see the way they rode tackles and broke tackles against Westmeath. We play a lot of football in training and it's showing."

One of the highlights of Sunday's win was a brilliant solo goal from former AFL recruit Daniel Flynn, who picked up the ball well inside his own half before firing to the net in superb style.

O'Neill believes Flynn has more moments of magic "in his locker" and the powerful Johnstownbridge midfielder will be a pivotal player as Kildare seek redemption in 2016.

Irish Independent

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